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Red palm weevil spotted in Southern California, alarming palm tree growers and scientists

October 27, 2010 |  3:36 pm

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Palm tree lovers, look out.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture says the red palm weevil -– which it has dubbed "the world’s worst pest of palm trees" –- has been spotted in the Laguna Beach area. The insect, native to southeastern Asia, was initially discovered by a landscape contractor last month, who then contacted state officials about the bug.

Scientists confirmed last week that it was a Rhynchophorus ferrugineus, the first such sighting ever in the United States.

Researchers and farmers alike say the bug could be a troubling portent for the state’s estimated $70-million palm tree and nearly $30-million date palm tree industries: Weevil larvae bore tunnels through palm trunks as they feed, which eventually can kill the trees.

But California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura warned in a statement that the insect "also endangers all of the decorative palms that are so common in our landscape and so much a part of the classic California backdrop."

State and federal officials have since launched a door-to-door survey of the area and set about 250 traps across nine miles. Scientists and growers met last week at UC Riverside to address the issue and talk about what they could do if there is a broader infestation.

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: The red palm weevil.

Credit: Michael Lewis / Center for Invasive Species Research, UC Riverside